Child Support Systems Protect Domestic Violence Victims

By Kim Schnuelle and Lisa Dufour

In 2007, there were 10,825 reported domestic violence offenses in King County, 18 of which culminated in death of the victim.1 The potential for domestic violence has no limits and can occur in any relationship, regardless of socio-economic status, race, age, gender or sexual orientation. Commonly, it occurs in families with children. Once a victim leaves an abusive relationship, however, she2 often finds herself without adequate financial resources and in need of state assistance.

If a domestic violence victim applies for Temporary Aid to Needy Families with Dependent Children (TANF) cash benefits, she is required to apply for support enforcement services and by law assigns any child support collection rights to the State.3 The applicant also is required to cooperate with the Division of Child Support (DCS) in establishing or enforcing child support obligations.4

Although DCS has significant and codified confidentiality rules,5 DCS establishment or collection efforts can nonetheless create a dangerous situation for the victim. The abuser may react with anger and threats of violence. The victim may apply for court-ordered protection or no-contact orders; however, if she is afraid that cooperating with DCS will result in harm to herself or her children, she may be excused from cooperation requirements by claiming “good cause.”6

A public assistance applicant may be granted good cause to not cooperate with DCS if such cooperation could result in serious physical or emotional harm to the applicant and/or her child(ren) or where it would be harmful to a child who was conceived as a result of rape or incest or is the subject of a pending adoption.7 Applications for good cause are made at a local Community Service Office (CSO).8

Upon filing a claim, the applicant has 20 days to provide supporting documentation, such as police reports, records and sworn statements to support her claim.9 During this period, DCS cannot take any action on the applicant’s case.10 The CSO must make a decision on the good-cause claim within 30 days of receipt of the full claim information.11

There are two separate types of good cause available to custodial parents: Good Cause A and Good Cause B.12 Good Cause A is granted when the CSO determines that the risk of danger to the custodial parent and/or her child(ren) is so grave as to warrant the cessation of all establishment or collection services.13 If Good Cause A is granted, DCS will close its case and will deny any request by the non-custodial parent for DCS services.14

If Good Cause A is granted after the case already has been referred to the county prosecutor or attorney general for services, the prosecutor or attorney general also will close their respective cases.15 If Good Cause B is granted, DSC will continue with its establishment and collection services, but the applicant is not required to cooperate with the agency.16

Despite her lack of cooperation with establishment and collection efforts, however, a Good Cause B applicant or her child(ren) may still be at risk of harm from the abusing parent. To increase the safety of her family, she may apply for a P.O. Box address through the Washington State Address Confidentiality Program (ACP).17

Founded in 1991, the ACP is designed to prevent violent offenders from using governmental records to locate their victims and to facilitate interagency cooperation in providing address confidentiality.18 ACP applications are made to the Secretary of State and must contain a sworn statement that the applicant (or minor on behalf of whom the application is made) is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault who fears for her safety (or her children’s safety).

The application also must include the applicant’s contact information, the applicant’s signature and a designation of the Secretary of State as the applicant’s agent for purposes of service of process and receipt of mail.19 The new ACP-designated address may then be used by state and local agencies as the ACP recipient’s legal address.20 The ACP recipient also may use the substitute address as her residence, work or school address.21

Once certified, the ACP designation lasts four years,22 although it may be renewed.23 ACP certification may be cancelled by the State, however, if the recipient obtains a legal change of identity, does not notify the program of an address change or uses false information in the application process.24

The State has a strong interest in reducing the risk of domestic violence and assuring the safety of its citizens. In addition to more widely known protection/no-contact orders available through the court system,25 the safeguards available through the good cause and address confidentiality programs can significantly reduce the risk of harm to a domestic violence victim and her family.

Through the use of a combination of such protections, a victim can increase her safety while leaving an abusive relationship, thus creating a better life for herself and her children.

Kim Schnuelle and Lisa Dufour are a senior deputy prosecuting attorneys in the Family Support Division of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Dufour is the lead deputy in the Special Collections Unit for Child Support Enforcement.

1 Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs CJIS Crime Statistics Information Table 2007.

2 Although the authors are aware that men can be the victims of domestic violence, the majority of domestic abuse victims are women. For simplicity purposes, therefore, the feminine gender will be used in this article. However, all safety information provided in this article applies equally to men.

3 WAC 388-14A-2005, WAC 388-14A-2035. If the applicant applies only for state medical benefits, he or she assigns the right to medical support to the State. WAC 388-14A-2035(4).

4 WAC 388-14A-2040.

5 See WAC 388-14A-2105.

6 WAC 388-14A-2045, WAC 388-422-0020.

7 WAC 388-422-0020(1).

8 WAC 388-14A-2050(1). The CSO is the office that administers the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.

9 WAC 388-14A-0020(2).

10 WAC 388-14A-0020(3), WAC 388-14A-2050(2).

11 WAC 388-14A-0020(4)(c).

12 WAC 388-14A-2060.

13 Id.

14 WAC 388-14A-2065.

15 Id.

16 WAC 388-14A-2070.

17 Chapter 434-840 WAC, Chapter 40.24 RCW. This program is available to anyone who meets the program criteria, not just public assistance recipients.

18 WAC 434-840-001, RCW § 40.24.010.

19 WAC 434-840-010, RCW § 40.24.030. More information can be obtained about ACP applications through www.secstate.wa.gov/acp or by calling 1-800-822-1065.

20 WAC 434-840-020, RCW § 40.24.050.

21 WAC 434-840-020.

22 WAC 434-840-010, RCW § 40.24.030(3)

23 WAC 434-840-030.

24 WAC 434-840-040, RCW § 40.24.040.

25 Assistance in obtaining protection/no-contact orders can be obtained through the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, located both in room E550 of the Seattle Courthouse (206-296-9547) and in room 2A of the Regional Justice Center in Kent (206-205-7406). See also www.protectionorder.org/protection_orders.htm.

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